A characteristic New Jersey has developed is the ability to replace star talent with in-house players that fit the Devils system. Lou Lamoriello, David Conte and the whole organization deserve recognition for their dedicate work and confidence they bestow upon the team. Names like Niedermayer, Stevens, Rafalski, Gomez, B. Gionta, Madden, and Parise have come and gone. Now players like Clarkson, Henrique, Larsson, Greene, S. Gionta, Josefson, and Zajac.
Down at the farm, New Jersey’s crop of defensemen is ready for harvest. With the overstock of blue liners in Newark, the Devils will have to make room by trading a veteran or even young prospect that can’t crack the roster.
In return, the Devils are in need of forwards. They have one listed right winger, Mike Sislo, according to HockeysFuture. The recent acquisition of Andrei Loktinov adds a talented centerman to the depth chart that doesn’t have any stars up front…except for one.
The Devils drafted Reid Boucher in the 4th round with the 99th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. In his second year with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, the Michigan native has become the Devils best offensive prospect. He leads the OHL with 45 goals and is sixth in scoring with 69 points, along with a +9 rating and 45 penalty minutes.
Boucher was featured in the OHL plays of the week for February 6th at the 1:52 mark following Sarnia’s 5-2 win over Kingston. His teammate Sarault wins the draw and feeds Boucher crashing the net. The puck is bouncing off skates and sticks, but Boucher tracks it in tight, pulls it to his backhand, and roofs it over the goaltender in an instant. He finished with three goals, his third hat trick of the season and 10th multi-goal game.
He has stepped up following the departures of a bulk of their production up front. The talented list includes Alex Galchenyuk, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Spooner, Ludvig Rensfeldt, Brett Thompson, amongst others that left Sarnia. The Sting are currently sitting in 7th place in the Western Conference 51 games in. They have a big game coming up on February 15th against Windsor.
Boucher was a member of the US National Team Development in 2009-2010. He played the bulk of the season with the Under-17 squad, but he did make one appearance with the U-18 team. In 24 USHL games, he scored 10 goals, 4 assists, with a -9 plus/minus and 22 penalty minutes. He would play in 41 non-USHL contests with the U-17 squad, finishing with 17 goals, 13 assists and 38 PIM. He also participated in the World Hockey Challenge U-17 tournament, scoring two goals with five assists in six games for Team USA.
Boucher stood out in his second tour of duty with the US National Team Development Program, competing in the USHL and the U-18 squad. He played in 24 USHL games, netting 14 goals with 6 assists, an improved +6, and 13 PIM. The Michigan native also saw 57 contests with the U-18 squad, finishing with 32 goals, 22 assists, and 35 PIM. At the World Junior Championship U-18 Tournament, Boucher finished second in the tournament with 8 goals for Team USA (first was Russia’s Nikita Kucherov with 11). Of his eight goals, three were game winners, including the go-ahead goal with 21 seconds left in a 4-3 win over Russia. He buried two goals against Canada in the semi-finals and then scored the equalizer with 1:29 remaining in the gold medal game against Sweden, leading to a 4-3 overtime win for Team USA.
Following the 2011 draft, the recent Devil decommitted from Michigan State to join the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in 2011-12. In his first season in juniors, he played 67 games, earning 28 goals, 22 assists, but suffered from a -19 rating. When the season ended, he played in one game up in Albany. He did have four shots, but finished a -1.
Reid Boucher possesses a quick release that is very accurate. He has soft hands to control the puck in tight areas, which he likes to go to. The Michigan native can find the scoring areas, even if he has to muscle his way through traffic to get there. He knows where to position himself in the offensive zone, but can still grow his defensive game. It is encouraging his plus/minus took a jump this year. For the Devils sake, they hope Boucher can meet his expectations.
In the past, New Jersey has struggled to keep an offensive prospect with the big club. Nicolas Bergfors struggled to stick in the top two lines during Jacques Lemaire’s second stint. He was launched to Atlanta following the trade for Ilya Kovalchuk. Mattias Tedenby is still with the organization, but has bounced back and forth with Albany and New Jersey. Nick Palmieri found early chemistry with Kovalchuk when he joined the club, but struggled to make the team the following season. He was later packaged to Minnesota in a trade for Marek Zidlicky.
The only prospect to stay with the Devils top two lines has been Adam Henrique. We’ll see if Bobby Butler can stick around as the season progresses.
Should Sarnia’s season conclude before the AHL playoffs, expect Boucher to be called up. If he proves himself, maybe the coaches in Albany keep the OHL leading goal scorer for the postseason. Coming off the season he’s had, Boucher could ride the wave of confidence similar to Chris Kreider’s spring in 2012.
Nevertheless, the Devils should feel good that Reid Boucher’s development has taken a leap forward. His offensive potential is going to get better, but his play in his own zone will take time to grow. There will be a learning curve when he turns pro. How he handles that will be the next phase. For now, Boucher’s stock is on the way up.
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia